Over the next year, on Mondays and Thursdays, I will introduce consecutive passages from my new novel, Red Queen to White Queen. The book explores how a Colombian matriarch came to exert a lifelong dominance over her family, until a newcomer threatens her reign.
At the end of each chapter, you will find a recipe from the book.
Cast of Characters:
Magdalena (Magda): Already in her 80s when the book begins, Magda is the most powerful figure in her family. Flashbacks explore the life that made her who she is.
Rosalba: Magda’s daughter, who has devoted her life to the care of her mother.
Immaculata (Imma): Magda’s lifelong servant
Dante: Magda’s husband
Seňora Moreno: Family friend of long standing
Desiderio: Magda’s son xxx
Don Claudio & Don Cosimo: Italian brothers, friends of the familyx
Father Martens: Magda’s Belgian tutor xxx
Click here for Part I.
Señora Rodriguez lay on her back, mouth open in a heavy snore. Don Arturo, reached down and shook her.
“For the love of God woman, wake up.”
The duenna snored on.
Don Arturo was used to being obeyed. He shook her again; and again.
Finally, he turned to Magda.
“What is the matter with her?”
“I believe she may have taken rather too much of her… medicines… the night before. That’s what she calls it.”
Magda felt the painful grip on her arm once more, as her father marched her to her own room then turned the lock. Magda spent the night feverishly hatching one plot after another. They all withered in the face of a single stark reality: she had no idea where Téo lived or how to contact him.
She had still not shut her eyes when her father knocked on her door at 5:30 a.m.
“Pack your bags. We’re leaving this morning for Bogotá.”
“And Señora Rodriguez?”
“Sleeps on. She will remain here. The woman clearly cannot be trusted to care for you any longer.”
Magda’s emotions came in quick succession: a surge of glee at her release from the old hag’s continual surveillance, grief at the thought of leaving Téo. Both were submerged in the greater panic of what might happen to them in the event of the old woman’s death. As yet, no one knew Téo’s name or whereabouts: her only way to protect him was by leaving. Hastily, she began throwing clothes into her trunk.
Ten minutes later, she was standing beside her father at the front desk.
“Can you have someone bring down our bags?” he asked the manager.
“I’m sorry, Señor, but you cannot check out until you take responsibility for the older lady upstairs.”
Don Arturo swore. “Very well, then, I’ll pay her bill for an extra night. She’ll have slept it off by tomorrow.”
“It is now the second day, Señor. I fear something else is afoot.”
Don Arturo spoke through clenched teeth. “What do you suggest?”
“There is a doctor on the next block. I can send a boy to bring him.”
“I refuse to pay medical fees for a servant who has drunk herself into a stupor!”
“I would hate to have to call the police, Señor.”
Don Arturo looked at the man for a long moment in an attempt to stare him down. The man stared back. Magda stood frozen between them. All three were caught in a silence that went on and on.
“Very well. Send for the doctor.”
He came quickly, black bag under his arm. Magda remained in the doorway: close enough to hear the diagnosis, far enough away to escape.
“This woman has been drugged, Señores.”
Magda held firm during the nightmarish day and night that followed. She might expect some mercy from her father; Téo would receive none. Her father had concocted a story putting him firmly in the blame for drugging the guardian and abducting the young girl. The police seemed inclined to accept it, grilling Magda about the boy’s name and whereabouts. The girl remained mute. xxx
Señora Rodriguez came to on the third day. Luckily for Magda, the old woman’s instinct for self-preservation was strong. Claiming to remember nothing about the series of events, she appeared, if that were possible, even more doddering than before. Both women kept their mouths firmly shut.
It was Téo himself who gave away the game. At the very hour Señora Rodriguez came around, a note was delivered to Don Arturo, who read it aloud with deep sarcasm. The hotel manager in Turbaco had released Téo into police custody, where he had been held for only an hour. “They could not hold me for merely taking a young woman to dinner,” he had written in obvious defence of Magda’s reputation. The note confirmed his offer of marriage: Téo and his father were requesting an audience to discuss the details.
Don Arturo sent back his answer with the same urchin who had delivered it. Another note was dispatched to the police. Magda could do nothing but watch helplessly as Téo walked into the trap.
Magda was standing by her window when he arrived. As on the day she met him, he was standing below her balcony in a white suit, straw hat in hand. The handsome gentleman at his side was clearly his father. Téo looked up, desperation in his eyes. He suddenly looked like what he was: a 17-year-old boy who would rather be in school. For Magda, pity replaced passion. She desperately signaled to him to leave, but Téo shook his head.
The two men entered the hotel. Still locked in her room, Magda was on the balcony when the police arrived. She expected to hear shouting, followed by Téo being led away chains. But there was nothing. For an hour she waited. Then Téo and his father left the hotel. The boy did not even look up.
Her father walked into her room.
“Well, you certainly know how to pick them, I’ll give you that. A Gaviria! And a Gaviria Restrepo at that. The police groveled at their feet. ‘Excuse us, Señor Gaviria. Forgive us, Señor Gaviria. This was clearly a mistake, Señor Gaviria.’ The corruption in this city is unbelievable.”
Magda knew that the corruption was no worse than it was anywhere else. As a businessman, her father had even used it for his own ends when it suited. Clearly, the resources of the Gaviria family were far greater than their own. Magda turned away to hide her smile.
Her father refused to give up. “It seems that no one but a Costeño can hope for justice in the criminal courts on this coast. I’ll sue in civil court, for damages.”
“Damages, Papá?” she asked hesitantly.
He glared at her, “To my daughter’s reputation. We may not be able to imprison the young man, but we can make them dig deep into their pockets.”
It took Don Arturo a full week to find a lawyer willing to take on the case. A man in his 50s, the lawyer had clearly been handsome once. His dyed black hair was slicked back and speckled with flakes of dandruff; a look of smooth insouciance rested on his face. Don Arturo closeted himself with the man all morning and emerged rubbing his hands in glee.
“Just the character I need,” he told Magda. “Don’t worry, daughter, there’s no need for you to testify. We men will take care of everything.”
Magda’s heart fell: it would have been her last chance to see Téo, to tell him with her eyes how sorry she was. If he had dispatched another note, it never reached her. Both she and Señora Rodriguez had lost their freedom to wander freely. Whenever Don Arturo left the hotel, both women were locked in their rooms. The rainy season had started and Magda spent her days staring disconsolately out the window as rain poured down in sheets.
She was seated in her usual place at the window when her father stormed into the room.
“I should have known better than to hire a Cartagena lawyer! In Bogotá, they’re the punchline of every joke.”
Knowning she could not proble her father for details, Magda sat quietly as he raged on and on.
“Well, daughter, you certainly know how to pick them. Imagine, paying off my lawyer! We’ll shake the dust of this city from our feet.”
The girl was packing her clothes when her father threw open her door once more, a newspaper clutched in his hand. She shrank back against the wall, terrified by the rage in his eyes.
“Congratulations! You have certainly ruined your life … and mine. None of the fine families in Bogotá will touch you now.”
“I … I don’t understand Papá.”
He shoved the paper at her. “It’s the story of your…your escapade.” Looking down, Magda saw a school picture of Téo, aged 15 or so. Garbed in tie and gown, he was staring blankly into the camera. It was not the boy she knew. Nonetheless, she sat staring at this last vision of him until her father snatched the paper out of her hands. Magda forced herself to speak calmly.
“How did it get into the papers? And why would anyone be interested…?”
“It seems everyone in the city is interested in the doings of a Gaviria Restrepo. I didn’t even see the reporter, skulking in the back of the room. If I had, I would have thrown him out by his collar.”
“What does it say?”
“It says that a siren from Bogotá tried to seduce the young scion of the Gaviria family then sue for damages in court. Your reputation is ruined. With no schooling, you can’t even be a teacher. I’ll have to support you for the rest of your life,” he said bitterly.
Magda refrained from pointing out that he himself had ruined her reputation, by dragging the case into court; and that it was he who had refused to send her to school. Grieving, she packed up her clothes, her canvases, and her chessboard. It would be a long time before she could bear to play chess again.
Check back on Monday, April 18 for Part 17. All text is protected under copyright to Susan Young de Biagi. Images are in the public domain.
Susan Young de Biagi is a regular contributor to prdn.
As a trained historian, my twin passions are writing and teaching. In addition to Cibou- my first novel – I have written or co-written three books of non-fiction and a number of digital, educational products.